Celtic; Dundee; Hearts; Hibernian, Kilmarnock; Motherwell; Rangers; St. Johnstone
PREDICTED LEAGUE POSITION: Tenth
LAST SEASON: 7th, 46pts
NOTABLE INS: Sean Kelly (AFC Wimbledon), Billy Mckay (Wigan Athletic), Thomas Mikkelsen (Odense Boldklub), Jim O'Brien (Shrewsbury Town, loan made permanent), Jamie Lindsay (Celtic, loan)
NOTABLE OUTS: Liam Boyce (Burton Albion), Chris Burke (Kilmarnock), Jay McEveley (Tranmere Rovers), Chris McLaughlin (Dumbarton), Ian McShane (St. Mirren), Milan Lalkovic (Portsmouth, end of loan), Jonathan Franks, Oscar Gobern, Paul Quinn, Martin Woods
LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): Fox, Naismith, Fraser, Davies, Van Der Weg, Gardyne, Chow,
Ross County had one. And they've sold him.
It was no surprise that someone came calling for Liam Boyce, and £500,000 was a pretty decent fee for the Ulsterman. But Boyce was not only County's biggest goal threat by a mile but also their best creator of chances. Strikers like him do not end up at clubs like County very often. Despite his goals, they came dangerously close to a relegation battle last season. Without them, they might have gone down.
Jim McIntyre has brought in a replacement who has previously hit those heights in front of goal. But Billy Mckay thrived in a Caley Thistle team that were good at getting the ball to him on the deck and taking advantage of his clever movement off a defender's shoulder, and floundered at Dundee United and on his return to Inverness as part of sides that couldn't do that. In recent times County have very much preferred playing direct, with neither centre-back comfortable passing it out of defence under any pressure. Can they modify their play to make the most of Mckay's abilities? Their league position may depend heavily on it.
Mckay's best days have been as a lone striker, but it would be a shock to see them without two up top. New arrival Thomas Mikkelsen would form a big man-small man partnership with him, but he might benefit more from the harrassing qualities of Craig Curran or the nous of Alex Schalk. We'll see.
Regardless, County will struggle for goals unless the midfield display a bit more finesse. The permanent addition of Jim O'Brien and the loan arrival of Celtic's Jamie Lindsay may help, but one is a converted winger and the other has no top flight experience. The centre of the park has the potential to be a huge weakness, with only one of those two is likely to start alongside a more workmanlike player, either Tim Chow or Chris Routis. Routis looks great on his day, but his day doesn't come round often enough. Chow runs around a lot and puts in some vicious tackles but that's about it. Martin Woods wasn't everyone's cup of tea, but given the alternatives it seems odd that he was forced out. No wonder they've been heavily linked with ICT's Ross Draper; they should move heaven and earth to get him.
At least the defence looks solid, with Scott Fox in goal and a back four of Jason Naismith, Andrew Davies, Marcus Fraser and Sean Kelly. But only Kenny Van Der Weg and youngster Reghan Tumilty offer any cover. Fraser is a good defender, but will only manage at centre-back if Davies deals with the physical side of things alongside him. And the captain almost certainly will; he is easily the best player left at the club and will be relied on heavily.
And sadly last year's Development Squad winners seem likely to make minimal impact on the first team. A lot of cash has been spent on County's youth setup, yet like everyone else they are going to rely on tried and tested veterans as well. That's a shame, but it's probably too much of a risk to throw the kids in to what could well be a relegation battle. It wouldn't be a surprise to see County at the wrong end of the table, though as ever they can rely on their moneybags chairman to fund a new team in January if that's what it takes to stay up.
THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1996 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Scott Fox, Aaron McCarey
Defenders: Andrew Davies, Marcus Fraser, Sean Kelly, Jason Naismith, Reghan Tumilty, Kenny Van Der Weg
Midfielders: Tim Chow, Tony Dingwall, Dylan Dykes, Michael Gardyne, Jamie Lindsay, Blair Malcolm, Jim O'Brien, Chris Routis
Forwards: Craig Curran, Russell Dingwall, Ryan Dow, Billy Mckay, Thomas Mikkelsen, Greg Morrison, Alex Schalk
THE BEST XI?
Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.